Why be just another blues guitar player when you really want to be a blues guitar hero? Every blues guitar legend starts with talent, hard work, a few breaks and faith in themselves. Here's an off the wall guide to becoming a blues guitar hero.
Be Crazy Dumb Saint of the guitar, fingers dancing wildly across the frets.. like the pin ball wizard, that deaf dumb kid sure plays a nasty blues guitar...
Learn To Play By Ear - Blues Guitar Hero
Jimi Hendrix, BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton - they
ALL learned to play by ear and improvise. And they did it the old
fashioned way with scratchy 78's records, LP's and reel to reel
tapes that hissed like the devil.
Today, there's no excuse for not learning to play by ear. Once
you learn to play something by ear - you own it. Just pop some
music in your CD player and skip back and forth over the licks
you'd like to learn until you get it. Before long, these licks
will find there way into your solos on stage.
Learn to Play Behind the Beat - Blues Guitar Player
Listen carefully to a few solo's by the blues masters, there
is actually a tiny p.a.u.s.e. between when you think the phrase
or lick begins and when it's actually played by the soloist.
Well, do you hear it? It's the trick that can will force people
sit up and pay attention your solo's!
That "funky" blues or jazz sound that grabs your ears and
MAKES YOU LISTEN is just an audio illusion... Your ear is tricked
into trying hear something sound that hasn't been played yet...
The great musicians above are all masters of playing solo's
just... behind.... the............. beat!
On blues and jazz songs, the soloist usually plays off the
drums... waits a fraction of a second to hear the beat and plays
the next lick on the upeat.... the "and of" when you count eigth
notes. Stevie Ray Vaughn, for example, played this way and is
Learn To Solo In The Flat Keys - Blues Guitar Hero
The classic jazz songs by Coltrane, Miles Davis, Wes
Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, etc. were mostly in the flat keys. For
example, "Round Midnight" by Thelonious Monk is in E flat. Do you
think "Round Midnight" played in the key of C has the same
On "Live at the Regal", BB King plays most songs in the flat
keys - F, B flat, D flat, A flat, E flat, etc. While today, most
blues and jazz songs are played in the sharp keys - G, D, A, E,
etc. Listen to songs in flat and sharp keys. Do you hear a
diffence? Which sounds better to you?
Also, the guitar fretboard has markings at frets 5, 7, 9, 12,
etc. that are designed for playing in the sharp keys. When you
play a solo in the flat keys, the fretboard markings look wierd
and may even mix you up. Playing solo's in the flat keys forces
you to re-learn to solo intuivively and trust that your fingers
will land on the right notes. And they will as BB King says
"Someday Baby, Ah Someday, Baby..."
Learn to Play oUT OF tuNe - Blues Guitar Player
Once upon a time, before they invented guitar tuners, people
played out of tune naturally. You didn't have to work at it and
nobody made a big deal about it. Listen to some funky old blues
or jazz records. I'm listening right now to a Grant Green record
... Joe Henderson is wailing a way and his tenor sax is
noticeably and beautifully FLAT.
Learn To PLay With Dynamics - Blues Guitar Hero
The great musicians use dynamics - loud is LOUD, soft is shhh... quiet. A dotted eighth note is a Dotted Eight
Note. A triplet's a Triplet Dammit... and so
BB King talks in his biography, about picking cotton for 25
cents a ton. Listen to his music... now here's a man that knows
the value of a dollar. Throughout his career, in every song,
every solo, every phrase, BB King accentuates the differences in
volume, timing, feel, color, attack, etc. BB King himself said it
best, " "Notes are expensive... spend them wisely."
Protect the Beat - Blues Guitar Player
Miles Davis said, "Music is about timing and getting
everything in rhythm... Max Roach taught me a drummer is always supposed to protect the rhythm... The way you protect the
groove is to have a beat in between a beat. Like "bang, bang, sha-bang, sha-bang". The "sha" in between the "bang" is
the Beat beat in between the beat, and that little thing
is the extra groove.."
Learn To Play Kinda Sloppy - Blues Guitar Hero
One of Duane Almman's favorite albums was "Kind of Blue"
by is the Miles Davis. On it, you can hear Miles Davis,
John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderly playing jazz the way
it's meant to be played - sloppy.... well not REALLY
SLOPPY, just "kind of" - the kind of studied sloppiness that
sounds funky cool and makes people listen to your music.
Learn To Swing - Blues Guitar Player
Duke Ellington said it ALL when he wrote the song "It Don't
Mean A Thing If Ain't Got That Swing" along with Irving Mills.
Read the words, listen to the song and "Swing Brother Swing!"
What good is melody?
What good is music?
If it ain't possessin' something sweet
It ain't the melody, it ain't the music
There's something else that makes the tune complete
It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing
It don't mean a thing all you got to do is sing
It makes no difference
If it's sweet or hot
Just give that rhythm
Everything you've got
It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing
Learn To Swagger - Strut Your Stuff!
Play guitar like the biggest, baddest, meanest, funkiest blues guitar player that ever lived. That's what being a blues guitar hero is all about. Just listen to Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Slash, SRV... have they got a chip on their shoulder or what? If you want to play like them, you gotta FEEL like them.. like Muddy Waters in the song "I'm Ready... "I hope some screwball start a fight!"
Find A Teacher That Pisses You Off!
I studied with some teachers that pissed me off, that got under my skin like Jimmy Cheathem (Duke Ellington) and Arnie Lawrence (Dizzy Gillespie) and learned the most from them - they gave a damn!
Leave Some Space - Blues Guitar Player
Some musicians have brilliant ideas, but you'd never know
it... they play so many notes it all sounds like a boring
bzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. For example.
Here's the same "solo" with a little bit o' space...
Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon
this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty, and dedicated
to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Learn To Fingerpick- Blues Guitar Player
The funky snappin' guitar strings and stinging blues licks -
ouch! - will fly off your fingers and into peoples' hearts. Check out Albert Collins... it's not for nothin' they call him the Master of the
Telecaster... R&B legend Cornell DuPree, guitarist for Aretha
Franklin and funk band "STUFF" and Eric Clapton playing LALYA
and finger style blues on his "Unplugged" CD.
Listen To Your Achin Hands- Blues Guitar Hero
After beating your hands to death trying to play an Eric
Clapton solo, and your fingers are killing you.... maybe they are
actually trying to tell you something!
Guitar players like Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Mark Knopfler,
Stevie Ray Vaughn, Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, etc. weren't born
with superman hands. They were all born with the same five, or in
the case of Hound Dog Taylor, six fingers that you have.
The difference is, they learned not to fight nature. The trick is to play notes & bends that are natural patterns for your fingers. A lick that's almost impossible to play in one position may be a breeze just by switching your hand position. Watch Clapton play a guitar solo, his left hand is always dancing back & forth between positions on the neck. (He also plays solo's without using his pinky, a 1950's technique and part of his disctinctive sound - try it!)
Also, don't arch your fingers... It's great for classical guitar players and a DUMB idea for playin' Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton licks. Watch the way they play guitar... fingers CURLED around the fingerboard... don't forget... if it feels funky, it's gonna SOUND funky!
Hit The Road & Take Your Guitar
The sounds and rhythms where you live are a HUGE FACTOR in how
you play. That's why a country musician from Houston sounds
different than a country musician from Boston. And a blues player
from New York different from one in Chicago .
If you want to play Flamenco music? Head for for Andulasia
Spain and Algeria. Wanna play the blues? Beat your path to
Memphis. Chicago Blues - bum the rails to the Windy City. Jazz?
Jump and jive your way to the Big Apple, New York City. You'll
learn more performing & hanging out with people in these
places then you can imagine... As Horace Silver said, "Music is
in the air... you just have to grab it!"
Don't Study French to Improve Your Greek
And don't study classical music to play Mo Betta Blues... it's BULLSHIT... excuse my French.
Play Acoustic Guitar - Blues Guitar Hero
BB King wasn't born with a Gibson ES 355 guitar in his hand - they weren't even invented yet! Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page all played acousic guitars throughout their careers.
An acoustic guitar transmits the vibrations of the music to your body - heart and soul. Check out SRV "Sky is Crying" album, Clapton's Unplugged CD, Jimmy Page's "Stairway to Heaven". The "touch" of playing the acoustic guitar will give your solo's an elusive "sound " and "feel" that comes through when you play electric guitar.
Learn To PLay Some Blues Harp - Guitar Hero
Blues harp sounds cool... and it's an IDEAL instrument for
improving your skills playing blues, jazz, rock, etc. Blues
harmonica will force you to learn to "bend notes", play by "ear"
and play simple, funky blues licks. It's cheap, fits in your
pocket and is tons of fun! See blues
Memorize Music Quotes
They will help you understand where it's at and how to get
there. Here's a few to start your collection.
"If you don't live it... it won't come out of your
"Notes are expensive, spend them wisely."
"Simple music is the hardest music in the world to play...
and blues is simple music."
"Music is everywhere, you just have to grab it!"
"The only real music that's gonna last is jazz."
Most of all, just be a blues guitar hero in your own eyes and enjoy your music. Good luck and funky blues, Johnny Mayer.
Copyright Johnny Mayer, 2002, All rights reserved.
Johnny Mayer and his Ephiphone DOT... cool!